The Atlanta Hawks will have at least two first round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft and, even if the Minnesota Timberwolves do not cooperate in sending a third, GM Travis Schlenk will be armed with a minimum of three picks in the top 35 selections. As a result, there will be a lot of attention paid to Atlanta’s draft strategy and, on Tuesday, Schlenk shared a bit of insight during a weekly interview with the team’s flagship radio network, 92.9 The Game in Atlanta.
“Best player available. We made the mistake one year in Golden State, and I’ve told this story a couple times to people. The highest draft pick we had in my time there in the front office was the 6th pick in the draft, and we selected Ekpe Udoh. And Ekpe actually plays for the Utah Jazz now. But we selected him because we needed a rim-protecting big so we drafted on more of a need as opposed to the best player. So that was kind of a mistake we made. But you live and you learn so that won’t be a mistake that we make this year. We’re going to take the best guy available.”
Of course, nothing about this is surprising. Because the Hawks are not armed with a playoff-ready roster or an overflowing cupboard of current roster assets, there is less of a temptation to draft for need. Yes, it would be nice if Atlanta’s next young big man was a strong fit alongside John Collins or if the team’s future wings fit snugly alongside Taurean Prince but, on the whole, Schlenk’s mandate has always been to acquire high-level talent and this answer falls in line with that.
Beyond that, there is an increased ability to take upside swings given the extra draft capital the team has amassed and that also applies to the team’s projected top-five pick. Though some of the potentially available players are big men like Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Texas’s Mo Bamba, there is no reason to shy away from the player the front office decides to be the best player available and is that doubly true given the versatile nature of what Collins could become in the future.
Frankly, it would be more newsworthy if Schlenk declared a preference for drafting in search of fit rather than overall talent but, on cue, he did the opposite here. Somewhere along the way with what could be a jam-packed draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hawks made a selection that erred on the side of fit but, in the same breath, that would be a tie-breaker rather than a deciding factor.
The slate is fairly clean when it comes to the roster right now and, after a success in the 2017 first round, Schlenk will be searching for the best talent on the board... even if that talent “plays the same position” as John Collins, Dennis Schroder or Taurean Prince.